Hibernian: First game, 3 points and a top scoring goalie

However the football season ends there’s some sort of a sense of loss that next weekend you won’t be either travelling to a game, home or away, or at least keeping up with the score from a game.

Us Hibernian supporters can vouch for a season ending badly, but still having that sense of loss.  It comes, partly, from being a football fan as much as it does from being the supporter of an individual team.  It also comes from being the supporter of a specific team.  You just want to be at the home ground supporting the team.  You want to be at the away grounds supporting them.

As May ends it can seem like such a long time until the start of the new season.  How to get through the next two months? Yes, there will be holidays, and this year we had the World Cup, a very decent World Cup, which at least satisfied the need to watch football.

Still, nothing beats the feeling of knowing the new season is so close you can touch it.  With a summer of worry for Hibs fans, it was a positive to have a decent run of form in the friendlies.  Yes, we went out of the Petrofac Cup but let’s not go into that here, I already blogged on my thoughts about that.

So it came around.  Saturday August 9th 2014.  Hibernian v Livingston.  3pm kick off.  This might be one benefit of life in the Championship, hopefully not many of our match times will change from 3pm on a Saturday.  Although, the better we play and the better our league position might change that.

Work beckoned for myself on Saturday morning and I know I’m not the only one.  If only we could all wake up on match day, have a cuppa and a bacon roll, chill out before heading towards the ground, or indeed, the pub before the ground.  Still, in this case, work at least deflected from the nervousness of the what would lie ahead.  The first game of the new season.  Our first in the Championship.  Our first league game with Alan Stubbs at the helm, the new team, the new goalie, the new era.

The journey from work to ground was a nervy one.  I had read on Twitter about a protest march due to take place in town and I didn’t want held up by that.  I don’t know about anyone else but if I don’t arrive at the ground until after kick-off I feel done.  That means even if I arrive two minutes after kick-off I feel like I’ve been done out of half the game.  I want to be there for all of it.

Protest avoided I made it to the ground at about 2:40pm.  The previous incident with the bag at the turnstile was a learning tool and this time I gathered my bag to my chest, swiped the season ticket and entered the ground like a hero.  Only to slide on the lid of a bottle inside.  However, no major incident there.

Work had initially deflected the nervousness until about 12 Noon when I suddenly thought about it and the nerves just kicked right in.  If the players were half as nervous as I was myself then they would have been climbing the walls of Easter Road.  I don’t know where the sudden nerves came from.  Perhaps from knowing Hibs of old.  Perhaps from seeing the changes made over the summer and just hoping beyond hope that this would be different, that Livingston wouldn’t hand us our rear-ends on a plate, that it wouldn’t be the same as before.

Entry to the ground was simpler this week, no choking myself on my own bag this week… Tea bought then up to seat 47 to watch the end of the warm up.

With the rest of  the support I stood up to welcome Stewart Woolard, our 90-year old mascot, onto the pitch.  What a guy he is, leading the Hibernian support in a rendition of Glory, Glory to the Hibees! Amazing.  I would have managed a picture of him but just as I tried the inevitable happened.  The south end sprinkler popped up on the pitch and a gust of wind brought a lovely spray of water across me and my phone (and the people in the rows in front of me).

Right, game time.  Out come Hibs.  Oxley, Gray, Hanlon, Forster, Harris, Robertson, El Alagui, Craig, Stanton, Heffernan, Stevenson.  Not a bad starting eleven at all.

Slight nerves were apparent in the team and it did take them a little while to settle.  Livingston didn’t start badly themselves, took advantage of Hibs initially and were first to have a chance in 9 minutes.  A Talbot corner connected with Gallagher whose shot clanged off the crossbar.

This seemed to be the wake up for Hibs and they started playing as we’ve seen them in the friendlies.  Passing was good, the ball was moving well, there was a confidence there that was missing at the end of last season (no wonder) and more importantly, there was a team out there.

Moments later Harris fed the ball to El Alagui but his shot was sent over and away.

In seasons gone by, the longer there is no score in a Hibs match the more likely it would have been that Hibs would have tapered away and the opposition would have scored and perhaps taken a relatively easy 0-1 win.  As positive as I have been about the new changes at Hibernian, the thoughts and feelings from seasons before resurfaced.  Prove me wrong Hibs.

I shouldn’t have worried.  A Liam Craig corner in the 16th minute allowed El Alagui to escape his marker and head in the ball for his first goal for the club and Hibs first goal of the league season.  Nerves be calmed.  El Alagui celebrated with the fans and pulled his top up to reveal a tee shirt with writing on it.  Despite him running right past where I sit, I still failed to read what was written but it turned out that he was meant to be best man at a friends wedding on Saturday but opted to play for Hibernian instead.

Barely sat back down, updates sent and tea sipped and the Hibs fans were back on their feet again.  2-0 for Hibs and the scorer…none other than débutante goalkeeper Mark Oxley.  He was as surprised as everyone else, Livingston defence and keeper included, when his drop kick sailed over the Easter Road pitch, took a bounce and landed safely in the back of Darren Jamieson’s net.  Annoying for him, Livingston and their support but that kind of luck would never have landed itself upon Hibs in recent times.  A goal is a goal.

Hibs had more chances to seal the deal and take the game away from Livingston but for shots missing by a few inches here and there.  First half performance could be described as Hibs were flying.  Feeling more confident than they had for a long time.

Half time arrived.  I’m not going to make much complaint about the length of time I waited in the kiosk queue (20 minutes) and I wouldn’t have even bothered but had had nothing to eat all day and was, well, going to the pub after the game to (hopefully) celebrate.  Plus, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted chips.

So a delayed return to my own seat and I find that it has been occupied by someone else.  A man.  I took another seat which I knew to be unoccupied, munched the chips and then went up to my own seat.  Plonked myself down beside him and he immediately asked if he had taken my seat.  I told him he had.  He moved.  Which was a bit of a shame because whilst eating my chips I had formed a speech to perform should he have protested at my protest of him being in my seat.  Still, I’ll keep it in mind as I’m sure I’ll need it again.

Anyway, onto the second half.  Two things were noticeable.  One was the lack of seagulls.  There were some but not as many as usual after half time.  Kind of worrying when the seagulls don’t appear for the second half and provide some entertainment as they do battle over that half eaten cheese burger.

The other noticeable thing was that Hibs were not playing well.  For some reason the passing was poor, the heads seemed to have gone down and things just weren’t as they had been.  This didn’t happen immediately after the resumption of play but became noticeable.  The fear resurfaced.  Dare I say that there were a couple of hoofballs.  OK, they’re allowed and will happen but generally they fill Hibees with dread.

Livingston had changed tactics slightly and enjoyed more possession and brought the game to Hibs.  In the 59th minute Livingston’s Keaghan Jacobs took advantage of a sleepy Hibs and got a shot on but it was tipped to the crossbar by Oxley back out to the waiting Declan Gallagher who netted making it 2-1.

Oh.  No.

Suddenly wishing I hadn’t eaten the chips, the nerves returned.  I’m not about elsewhere in the ground but in the immediate vicinity of where I was sitting I could feel the change in the fans.  We had dared to hope, were we going to be left with the same feeling as seasons before? Would heads drop not to be lifted? Would the game fall for Livingston?

Thankfully not.  On all accounts.  First of all, the heads had dropped, the second half was scrappy but the Hibs players realised that and dug in to prevent disaster.  It was a nervy conclusion but they scrapped for the last few minutes keeping the ball in the Livingston end.  Rather than heads dropping and the team becoming individuals, they stuck together to give us a 2-1 win and a much welcome 3 points.  Not a perfect match, particularly in the second half, but Hibs dealt with it.

Subs for Hibernian were: Kennedy on for Stanton and Cummings on for Heffernan, both in the 79th minute.  Didn’t really see enough of Kennedy to make real comment, he was clearly nervy but if he settles into the team then only good things can happen.  Cummings is obviously returning from injury and just needs the match time.

Improved performances from Liam Craig, Alex Harris – though his confidence comes and goes, Scott Robertson and Farid El Alagui (for his goal!) and solid performances from Jordon Forster, Lewis Stevenson, David Gray and Paul Hanlon.

What to say about Mark Oxley at this stage? He talks to his defence, a lot.  He can make the saves and should settle in more with the team.  Oh, and of course, at this stage…he’s our joint top scorer.

We’re a long way, still, from being a finished team but we know that.  Yet if we can do this with the squad that we have then we’re on the right track.

Next up is Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday 17th August, 12:30pm kick-off.  I won’t be there and I won’t even be able to watch it (thanks work!) but you know where my mind will be.


Featured image for the blog: Farid El Alagui – courtesy of Simon Dirom.

Below: Mark Oxley’s goal.

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